Identity info stolen from NMSU, but personnel data on laptop hard drive is inaccessible, university says

January 5, 2008

By Jose L. Medina/Sun-News reporter

A computer hard drive containing the names and Social Security numbers of current and former NMSU employees is missing from the Pan American Center, just the latest in a series of thefts from the facility since November 2006, according to police reports.

A New Mexico State University official said it was "highly improbable" that the information on the hard drive could be accessed.

The external hard drive was stolen sometime between Dec. 30 and Jan. 2 from an office at the NMSU Special Events Department, housed at the Pan Am. It contained the names and Social Security numbers of every employee hired by the department since 1999, according to a university police report.

The hard drive was used as a backup to an employee's computer.

Scott Breckner, who was named director of special events just last month, said Friday that the department was trying to ascertain how many names and Social Security numbers were on the hard drive . information that was encrypted.

Breckner said late Friday that the university plans to notify the affected student employees about the theft by letter as a precautionary measure. Letters were also sent by the university last April when the names and Social Security numbers of more than 5,600 current and former students were accidentally posted in a public section of the NMSU Web site.

"Safety is our concern, no question," Breckner said.

The missing hard drive is just one in a string of thefts that date back more than a year.

A former acting director of special events at the Pan Am called campus police on Aug. 3 about a series of thefts that began in the fall of 2006. The incidents included two thefts of cash totaling $5,000, plasma televisions, watches, 200 feet of electrical cable, a floor buffer and a digital camera.

The Aug. 3 report indicates that police were provided with the names of possible suspects and that crime prevention strategies were discussed with the acting director.

Additional police reports indicate at least eight thefts have taken place at the Pan Am and its annex since Aug. 15. The thefts have included computer software and hardware, a video camera and several pieces of athletic clothing.

"We have been plagued by quite a few thefts there," NMSU police Chief Jaime Chavez said. He declined to offer specifics of the ongoing investigation but said investigators had potential leads.

Breckner, too, declined to discuss other thefts at the Pan Am, citing the pending investigation by NMSU police.

The Federal Trade Commission estimates 9 million Americans each year become victims of identity theft. The thieves use the information to, among other things, open lines of credit and bank accounts in the victim's name, often ruining their credit standing.

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